Investigating the Lydhør application from the NLB: An Accessibility and usability assessment in the context of Universal Design
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The research in this project was an exploration of Universal Design principles, applied to an existing mobile application. The developers of the application (named Lydhør) have a challenge in ensuring that the application is accessible and usable, due to the unique group of users that utilize the application. The application, simply put, is an e-reader, that reads aloud books with a synthetic voice and books that are in audiobook format (a human has read the book aloud and recorded it). To qualify to use Lydhør, one must have what is loosely termed as a “print disability.” This means that users must have problems with reading “conventional” books. This can stem from blindness or limited vision, or an inability to turn pages in a book, or many other reasons. Universal design (in the context of IT), in short, is the process of designing an artifact to be as accessible and usable to as many users as possible, within a single design. This represents a unique challenge for the Norsk lyd- og blindeskriftbibliotek1 (NLB- The Norwegian audiobook and braille book Library), in ensuring that their application is “universally designed.” For this research, the Lydhør application was examined and assessed to determine if accessibility and usability problems were present in the application, with a higher priority placed on ensuring accessibility. The process often involved various inputs from users by design, which improved the quality of the output. For problems that were identified, solutions were created and then tested, by members of the print disability group. Midway through the research, only had a few minor accessibility transgressions had been identified (the highest priority goal of RQ1), and the focus of the research shifted towards identifying and testing solutions to usability problems. The design of the project was intentionally dynamic, to be responsive to information learned from user inputs from the earliest phases. It was impossible to know which problems existed before performing earlier research activities. Although the final research activities had been planned, their precise contents were intentionally “left open.” This research is carried out in the context of universal design focus, so needless to say, some design activities took place, which increased the quality of the final output. Because of the role of design in this project, a quasi-SCRUM approach was loosely followed (for design related activities), which allowed the designs solutions to be responsive to problems actually identified, not predetermined activities, which might have served to ignore the user inputs. The advantage of doing so, is most eloquently described by Ken Schwaber. Scrum allows researchers/designers “to devise the most ingenious solutions throughout the project, as learning occurs and the environment changes (Schwaber, 1997).” To accomplish the goal of answering the research questions, a host of research methods/activities were used. One of these was a survey that gained input from over a hundred users. From information gathered in the survey, a prototype application was created that attempted to address problems that were identified in the survey. The prototype was then tested (with participants from the print disability group), to learn if perceived solutions, were in fact improvements. There were many insights learned that should serve to improve not only Lydhør, but can also improve accessibility and usability in mobile applications in general, and with mobile e-readers, and will add actionable knowledge to the limited research existing that is specific to “print disabilities”.
Master in Universal Design of ICT